Most learning is invisible: you can’t plan for that

13th May 2016 at 00:00

I went round to a friend’s house the other night to drink wine and dissect The Archers, only to find her lesson planning.

“It’s OK,” she told me. “I can chat and do this at the same time. The teaching part’s done; this is just the learning stuff.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’ve planned out what I’m going to teach in the lesson but now I have to show what the learning will be.”

She showed me her school’s planning pro forma (which was busier than Clapham Junction at rush hour). She was working on the final part where you had to complete the statements “I have made good progress today and I can now…/ My next step will be to…” for three levels of differentiated work.

“What does this actually do?” I asked her. “You’ve already determined how much progress they can possibly make by giving them that level of work, and do children who are made to copy next-step statements off the board once a lesson really pay any attention to them? If you’ve planned a decent lesson and you teach it well, then surely the learning will follow. Also, it’s 20 minutes of your life you’re never getting back.”

Seeing this kind of planning makes me appreciate my school (where the general rule is that you should write something down only if it directly impacts on a child’s progress). I’ve taught in schools (and know of many more) where the crusade to bottle “learning” is all-consuming and no avenue is left unexplored. In these schools, you know that when you step into the classroom you are there to facilitate learning. You know that learning will be taking place because you have planned meticulously for the learning. You have written down what the learning will be and in what order it will occur. You have decided what the finished learning will look like and how this might be shown.

Of course, once you’ve done all this, you have less energy and enthusiasm for “facilitating learning” than you did when you started. There’s also the risk that some of the “learning units” in your classroom won’t follow the trajectory you have mapped out for them, in which case, you must spend time reflecting on and reviewing your learning plan before the next lesson.

Although even Ofsted now categorically states that it doesn’t need to see a specific style or quantity of planning and written feedback, some schools just can’t seem to shake off the obsession with evidence – the need to make everything that happens in the classroom tangible and explicit.

Not long ago, I taught a day’s supply in a Year 6 classroom where the walls were papered with step-by-step instructions for “learning”. There were diagrams and bullet points showing children how to break down maths calculations, definitions of grammatical terms, reminders of how to hold a pen, how to underline the date, how to think. There was so much information that it made you dizzy. In the middle was a poster of an iceberg with the slogan “Remember: most learning is invisible”.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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